Welcome, Megan Chance
As she celebrates the publication of her latest novel, Inamorata, Megan Chance took a few minutes out of her schedule to drop by and answer some questions about her writing process.
One of the things I enjoyed most about Inamorata was that even though it has elements of the fantastical – succubi feasting on artistic powers – the characters were entirely original and believable. How difficult is it, I wondered, to create such believable characters? Megan explains to us how she draws people we feel we know and with whom we can identify. I think her observation that we really haven’t changed across the centuries is interesting and accurate. Thank you, Megan!
Make sure you check out Inamorata. It is a fascinating, beautifully written novel.
The Believable Character, by Megan Chance
For me, story comes from character, and so my invented people have to be believable, because the entire plot hangs upon their actions. These five tenets help me develop characters who feel real.
- We all have a self-concept that defines us: “I’m an artist,” “I’m brave,” “I’m a mother.” In fiction, everything a character does should support or negate his self-concept. That self-concept should also be the fatal flaw that brings about a character’s rise or fall. For example, a “brave man’s” act of courage might bring about disaster. In real life, it’s our response to an event that determines our fate, not the event itself. In fiction, it should be the same.
- Every character should have a past, and this past should be revealed slowly. People don’t tell you their secrets right away. They’ll say, “Oh yeah, my parents are divorced,” but they won’t say, “When my parents divorced, I started doing drugs, lying and stealing.” It isn’t until you know a person well and trust them that you reveal your deepest emotions and secrets. Characters who reveal too much too soon feel fake.
- No one believes they’re evil. Everyone has something they want, and they justify that desire so it seems honorable and ethical and reasonable to them. Even a villain has his good moments. Letting the reader understand why every character acts as he does creates a three-dimensional world.
- In my research, I’ve read countless journals, letters and autobiographies, and I’ve learned that people have not really changed. We are motivated by the same things as our ancestors: anger, love, jealousy, hate, pride. People have always had illicit affairs and forbidden urges; violence, abuse and stress have always existed, and always will.
- What has changed is the way society perceives such things, and the price one pays. Until recently, alcoholism was a moral failing, not a disease. The insane had no pill to take, and most self-medicated. An affair or illegitimate pregnancy could mean ruin. There was no Child Protective Services to step in and save children from abuse. Divorce was practically unheard of. A woman who wanted a creative outlet had few options. Ask yourself: if I were in this situation, and all these doors were closed to me, what would I do? What would I sacrifice? What could I live with or without? We all know what it feels like to be trapped. Readers will empathize.
It’s important to remember that while your characters should be like real people, with quirks and insecurities, they must also be fathomable. While you or I may do things that seem inconsistent, being “out of character” is the kiss of death in fiction. Giving a character one or two defining characteristics—and making them matter—is key. Too much complication in fiction feels unreal.
Remember: simplicity rules.